Positive discipline is an overarching philosophy that helps a child develop a conscience guided by their own internal discipline and compassion for others. When we focus on Guiding our children for Growth, we can honor their drive to explore and learn about their world AND honor our need to keep them safe and learn how to act in increasingly "pro-social" ways.
Babies and young children can only learn about their world by their physical engagement with it. Children are by definition immature so their encounters with the world are almost always going to be unskilled. It is in their repeated engagement, and our coaching and guidance, that they learn over time. And learning takes lots of time and lots of repetitious practice, much of it unskilled!
Nourishing our parenting knowledge can help give us a sufficient understanding of the learning our children are doing at a given age and their capability to "control" themselves. Impulse control is a skill that develops slowly over time too and our expectations have to account for their capabilities.
Taking in their learning goals, their capability and knowing more about their temperament, how they engage, we have the ability to guide our children for growth. Reactions will always happen because our children will do unexpected things, sometimes unsafe things and we need to react quickly. The more we understand, the better we can be at proactively guiding our children for growth, rather than reacting or reaching for discipline each time an unskilled practice happens. (which is a lot!)
When we guide for growth, we're using an empathetic, loving and respectful approach that strengthens that the connection between parent and child. We rely less on our reactions, which can often be harsher or scarier or more punitive that we intended. These kinds of reactions or discipline practices can distance our relationship and unintentionally set us up for more negative interactions and conflict. This situation does not guide for growth, but stalls growth and encourages learning we didn't intend that doesn't serve us or our children as well. The ultimate goal of discipline is to guide our children's growth so they develop self-control and self-discipline and can independently judge what is right and know what to do.
Not all Forms of Discipline are Effective
- Threats and fear-based methods of discipline that scare children backfire. Children who are afraid, cannot learn to judge right and wrong on their own and cannot learn how to solve problems and conflicts. They simply learn how to avoid being afraid.
- Studies show that spanking and other physical discipline techniques can create and drive the very behavioral problems they are intended to correct.
- Harsh, physical discipline teaches children that violence is the only way to solve problems
- Parents who were spanked as children tend to be the most interested in learning about new ways to guide their children. It takes time to learn new things that work, but the payoff is happier and healthier families and children.
Guiding for Growth is a More Effective Approach to Discipline
- Guiding for Growth begins at birth. When you respond to your baby consistently and compassionately this trusting relationship forms the foundation of your guidance across the years to come.
- Guiding for Growth involves nourishing your knowledge about your child's learning goals, their temperament so it's easier to guide the activities that meet your needs and theirs. You'll practice a combination of skills that might include preventing, redirecting, substituting, giving very simple choices that have acceptable answers for you, and setting up daily routines as the "rails" that move you through the day in a reliable sequence that you and your child can depend on for learning and wellness.
- Help your child explore safely, seeing the world through his eyes and empathizing as he experiences the natural consequences of his actions
- Try to understand what need a child's behavior is communicating. Child behavior is communication. We call it "acting out" because is it a visible display of their immature brain structures lacking the ability to control their behavior or judge their ability. This situation presents ongoing conflicts - learning can be frustrating! And learning that frustration can be overcome with practice is a part of learning. Recognizing this and moving through these frustrations is part of the learning. Our guidance and responses to their frustrations shape their own regulatory skills even as they're learning physical and verbal lessons and skills.
- Resolve problems together in a way that leaves everyone's dignity intact
- Understand developmentally appropriate behavior, and tailor loving guidance to the needs and temperaments of your child
- Children learn by example so it's important to strive to model positive actions and relationships within a family and in interactions with others
- When parents react in a way that creates tension, anger or hurt feelings, the next step is to reconcile and work to do better.
Tools for Positive Discipline, Guiding for Growth
This list is not all-inclusive, and some items may not be suitable for children of a particular age or temperament. Please contact a Parent Group Leader near you for more information.
Learning to Guide for Growth does not come easily for us parents, especially those of us who were raised in a more traditional, authoritarian environment. Connecting with Parent Groups is an enjoyable and effective way to nourish your parenting knowledge and feel encouraged to use effective parenting skills in a way that fits your needs.
Research related to this Principle
- From the Journal of Attachment Parenting
- From 2013 AP Month research
- From 2016 AP Month research
- From 2017 AP Month research
- From SMU
Resources related to this Principle
- Calming your crying baby or toddler (and tantrums)
- Nurturing Empathy
- Effective Discipline
- Babywearing and Nuturing Touch
- Making time for positive relationships in busy families
Read about other Principles of Parenting: